Our Promise to You - Apartheid

I went to McDonalds this morning. I could have gone to an upmarket restaurant – but Maccas is cheap, convenient, and I really like their bacon and egg McMuffins.

So I went to the door and there was a prominent sign on it – ‘Sorry. If you use a wheelchair, we can’t serve you – unless you come in with another paying guest.’

What?

I rang McDonalds to ask what the hell they were talking about.

The receptionist wasn’t even apologetic. ‘Didn’t you read the sign?’ she said.

‘I’m sure it’s a mistake,’ I answered timidly. ‘You weren’t actually saying that I couldn’t eat here unless I was here with another person, were you? Because I don’t have a friend with me today – and besides, most of my friends don’t like Maccas.’

‘Yes, that is what we are saying,’ the receptionist said. ‘We keep our prices down because we have limited staff – and when you come in, one of our staff members will have to move a chair. You will have to bring a paying guest with you to move your chair, or you can’t eat here.’

‘But what about prams?’ I asked humbly. ‘Don’t they also require a bit of moving chairs around? ‘

The receptionist laughed. ‘People with prams don’t have special needs,’ she said. ‘You do. So we’ve made this rule around special needs…but I’m sure you’ll be able to get a meal at the fancy restaurant down the road.’

Would you be outraged if this happened to you?

Maccas have never refused to serve me a McMuffin. In fact, I bought one this morning. I’ve never seen a sign on their door saying ‘No Wheelchairs’ or ‘No Black People’ or observed any other discriminatory behaviour from them. Maccas are an equal opportunity fast food chain, who fatten their clientele equitably.

Not so FlyScoot.

You might not know FlyScoot. They’re new, a budget airline to compete with Jetstar and Virgin and Tiger. But this morning, they refused to serve me a bacon and egg McMuffin.

From their website –

Can I travel if I have a disability?

You must be able to travel independently, i.e. be able to board, deplane, toilet, feed, move about the aircraft and communicate with the crew with respect to safety instructions unassisted. If you are unable to do so, you will need an escort/carer to travel with and assist you throughout your flight as Scoot does not have the systems, staff or facilities to assume responsibility for such assistance. Please note that, should you need an accompanying guest, they must be included in the same booking as yours; our call centre can help facilitate this.

I rang them this morning to try and book a trip to Singapore. I have never been refused a flight on the basis that I use a wheelchair. But I’m unable to do so – despite the fact that I can work, camp, eat, parent, live independently – in fact, I have hardly any support needs other than requiring a wheelchair for mobility.

The call centre girl said clearly, ‘If you use a wheelchair, you will not be able to fly with us, unless you bring a carer.’ In other words, get your bacon and egg McMuffin somewhere else, bitch.

On their website, they say they've 'standardised and simplified their processes' to keep fares low and that they haven't 'forgotten people with special needs'. That's their promise to you - they haven't forgotten us. No, they've actively discriminated against us.

In 2008, a 78 year old advocate named Sheila King launched a Disability Discrimination Act complaint against Jetstar when she was refused carriage on a flight. The basis for Jetstar’s refusal of service was that there were already two people using wheelchairs travelling on that flight.

Sheila’s complaint was investigated by the Australian Human Rights Commission, and she went to court. Jetstar’s mass of lawyers argued that only two people a day should be able to buy a McMuffin. Sheila lost.

At the time, Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes said, ‘While Jetstar's "two wheelchair" policy is also practised by Virgin Blue, and by Tiger, Jetstar's parent airline Qantas, do not have this policy. Nor do Virgin internationally. I know of no other airline in the world flying big jets which does.’

All that’s changed now we have FlyScoot. Instead of pretending we don’t have disability apartheid, the ‘No Blacks’ signs are on the door, loud and proud, for everyone to see.

That’s why I’ll be launching a DDA complaint against them today.

I’ll be asking that they change their discriminatory rules – and I’ll be asking for a payment of $5,000, to donate to a systemic advocacy organisation of my choice. For the sole purpose of making sure that we work to align ourselves with the rest of the world and that we are no longer treated as second class citizens when on the ground or in the air.

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